When her 20-year marriage ended in 2018, Kathryn Dunn discovered that dating was not as she remembered it.
Technology and a shifting culture had upended the standards of etiquette she had been familiar with.
Once upon a time, the 57-year-old civil servant met potential partners through friends, at parties or while out on the town – a world where flirting was mostly done politely. By comparison, online dating felt like the Wild West.
Sites displayed hundreds, even thousands, of potential matches. But Dunn found it was rare for any of the matches she made this way to evolve into relationships: Out of the 1,500 men she’s chatted with online, she’d been on a first date with only between 20 and 30, and a second with just five or six.
And while the number of men who didn’t reply felt a little frustrating, there were some responses Dunn wished she’d never received. “You get guys who will also just send you naked pictures,” she said. “Things have moved on a lot since I was last dating.”
Dunn is hardly alone in waking up to a different world of romance post-separation. Once, dating was the almost exclusive preserve of younger people, but that’s no longer the case. Divorce rates rose in the 20th Century, then dipped after a 1990s high, but have ticked up again since the pandemic. Figures for the UK last year show they spiked 23%, climbing at the fastest pace in over 50 years, according to PwC.
There’s been another major change, too. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020) came into effect last year, permitting “no fault” separations.
Previously, it could only happen if one side accused the other of poor behaviour, such as cheating, or if the couple had spent years apart, even if both sides wanted out. Now, a divorce can be granted after a minimum wait of 20 weeks. Accusations aren’t necessary.
Overall, 41% of marriages end in divorce by their 25th anniversary, according to the Office for National Statistics. That means many people have a second – or even third – chance to dip their toe into the dating scene.
Recent years have seen “changing patterns of sexual behaviour” in older age groups, the President of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV told The Guardian last November. A stark statistic bears this out: The number of sexually transmitted infections among the over-65 set increased by 20% between 2017 and 2019, according to a report by the Local Government Association.
The research also found that the biggest proportional jump in cases of gonorrhoea and chlamydia are in people aged 65 and above. The cause isn’t entirely clear, but some studies suggest using dating apps can lead to riskier sexual behavior.
To prepare for dating in 2023, some divorcees are spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on coaches: People who help them get through the legal steps of a separation and then prepare for life beyond. Amy Dixon, a divorce and relationship coach, said she frequently helps clients who are “floundering” when trying to date online after divorce.
“People in their 40s grew up dating in a different way, we didn’t grow up with mobile phones let alone the Internet and the expectations of fast dating,” she said. (Although her own life shows it can work – after her marriage ended, she met her new partner on Tinder.)
Some are also finding that the passage of years has made dating trickier compared with the last time they were single. For instance, dates frequently having to be booked around co-parenting demands.
“When you’re older you’re unlikely to find someone who hasn’t been married before and hasn’t got children, so there’s always that added layer of complexity,” said Nawal Houghton, a divorce coach. “You ask ‘Are you free that weekend?’ but they say ‘Oh no, I have my kids.'”
After divorce people may also want different things, with some needing time to get into a new relationship. In weekly, fortnightly or monthly meetings, Dixon tells her clients to think about their “grade of availability” and make that clear when they’re chatting to people on apps – including those tailored to an older crowd like “Silver Singles” or “Ourtime.” People should make clear if they are just out of a marriage and looking for a fling, or are they ready to commit again, she said.
Dixon said relationships after divorce can also take different forms, with many people wary of opening their lives to another person.
“I have a friend who has a Tuesday guy,” said Dixon. “She’s exceedingly busy as a single parent with a good career but she’s a little on the lonely side, so she decided to look for someone for one to two nights a week. They have an arrangement that on a Tuesday he comes over, has a lovely meal and a sleepover, then see each other in a week.”
Another group dating again are people who have been widowed. Chapter 2, a dating website and events company for people who have lost their partners, has had 2,000 sign-ups since launching in the UK in November. Four committed relationships have so far resulted. This spring, it’s expanding to the US and Australia, and later on, to other English-speaking locales.
Specialist dating services can be hugely beneficial after being widowed, said Nicky Wake, the company’s founder. “Despite the grieving, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to have fun or date,” she said. “We had a night out in Birmingham a few weeks ago and it was a riot, we all had hangovers. Widows know to live for the moment.”
After all the apps, a real-life event like that sounded appealing to Dunn, too. “I’m sort of at a point where I’m thinking I’m looking for some local groups where hopefully I could go and meet someone,” she said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)